Making a website


If you ever have made a website of some size, you have probably realized that planning it out before you start is a good thing. Some of you have done it from the beginning, others learn as they go along, adding pages and links where they feel for it. Personally, I'm into the fourth (major) revision of my site now. My first attempt was when HTML and homepages were completely new to me - I knew how to make simple pages, having links and pictures included, and not much more. So I started with a page about me, and links to the other pages from that.

I kept adding pages, so after a while, I saw that I had to split it up in sections, and this I did in the same way: Adding a menu on the top of the first page in a section. But still, that first page was beginning to get too big; I had to split it up - one entry page with a little text, the next page having a little bit more text and the menu to the different sections. Later, I got new ideas for design and organizing of links, adding and changing the pages. But things started to get more difficult to update, while at the same time keeping the navigation simple. (Or relatively simple.) After I got my own domain, I knew I had to do something drastic, and not just moving my pages over. I had to start planning.

Planning the layout

Making a successful website is not only about having aesteticly pleasing pages, they also (and probably most important) must be functional and easy to navigate. If you want to find some information, you usually don't want to figure out how to get to those pages first. What we already know is:

How do you ensure that? Most importantly, the navigation must be the same from page to page, do not change the functions and placement of navigation on similar pages. I.e. pages on level 1 must appear the same, level 2 pages must function similar to each other, but may be different from level 1 pages - just make sure there's no confusion where you (the visitor) are.

At some time, more or less often depending on the site, you want to update the pages, and probably add new ones. At this point, you would like that the pages are easy to update. Already, we have the second point on our list:

And how is this managed? Well - you have to make certain you don't have to do a lot of time-consuming work each time you add a link. Some say that this is a great argument in favour of frames, as you only have to update one file, but all good editors (even free) can manage to do a search & replace on several files, and there are pre-processing tools that can help, too.

As an example of bad planning here, is my own, previous pages: The links were represented by rooms in a building. Looking good, but what happened when I had to add a page? I had to remake that little map, in my case several times because I filled the current room with a colour. Yikes! Adding pages became a chore, and I may have put it off longer that I really should. But I learned.

I've learned more, too. I have managed to write a few pages here, and when all pages were in the same folder, well - things could definitely be better organized. Not to make the pages better, but to make it easier to maintain - which leads us to a third pont:

How will you organize it all? Just the same way you would do on your hard disk: Move files into various catalogs (or folders.) You may have one catalog for your hobby, and catalogs under that for various images and files that are used. And similar for other sections. A thing to think of, is that you may want to have several catalogs for various images; Backgrounds, illustrations, navigation buttons etc. It makes it easy to find what you're looking for.

When you are visiting pages on internet, you'll see that the url-field in your browser changes to show the address of the page you're on (unless the site use frames.) All addresses start with http:// and then the path to the page - but is this neccessary to write in the links to your own pages? No! It's much better to use relative adressing; You refer to the pages relatively to the page that is doing the referring. If the page is in the same catalog, just write the filename. Is it in a catalog below, use 'catalogname/filename' - or '../filename' if the file is in a catalog above. The two dots means 'up one catalog.' Our fourth point is:

We've got quite a way in our planning now - but there are one more thing that's important to remember. The links.

You should already know it's important to check that there's no dead links on your pages, especially not within your own. You're in total control of those. When you link to pages outside your site, you're likely to discover some of them may disappear, causing you a bit of link-rot. But what of those linking to you?

When you update your pages, you may be tempted to change filenames, or move pages into different catalogs. This may cause problems for other people - and through them also you... Not everyone want to link to your index-page, the "front door." Some would rather like to link directly to the pages they find interesting. What would happen if you changed that filename, or moved the file? People following that link would get an error message instead. Do you think those who linked to that page don't deserve better? Then think more closely: It's your pages that are not found - and it's much easier to remove a link completely than search out for the new location. In other words, another point:

I've written 'try' here - there may be reasons you really want to move files (like reorganizing into different folders) but in that case, set up a redirection to the new file by the server. If that's not possible, at least let there be a small file in it's place, with a link pointing to the new location. It takes little space, you keep the visitors, and it's giving people time to change their links.

If you want to delete pages, do as above: Make a small link pointing to a suitable place on your site. But is it neccessary to delete the file? There may be space-restrictions that force you to this move, of course, but if you can keep an archive of old files, that may be an idea - especially if people find the content interesting. If you have access to your serverlogs (or get other statistics) then study them and see.

There - all is said now, isn't it? Graphics? Design? How things look? Sure, that is an added bonus. Do not misunderstand - it's imporant enough, but these things must be seen in connection with the functional and navigation; These themes can't be separated! Or to set it up as a point:

Try to make the graphics before you think of navigation and function, and you may make it difficult for yourself. Think of navigation and function without bothering with graphic design until that's sorted out, and you may have a hard time getting pages look like you want. You have to do this at the same time.

We now have a list of points to consider when planning a website:

Good luck with your own site.

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